This is absolutely phenomenal show that is at Milton Keynes Theatre for the last leg of its UK tour. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Billy Elliot is set in the north during the coal miners’ strike in the early 1980’s. Its gritty and the difficulties that the families going through that really comes across during the performance. Billy is a pre-teen whose father and brother both work down the mines. His mother has passed on and he lives at home with his family and grandmother, who is in the early stages of Dementia. It’s not an easy life for poor Billy.
He goes to boxing every week but really doesn’t like it and one week when he is late his boxing teacher tells him to lock up. Suddenly Mrs Wilkinson and her ballet class are in the hall dancing. He is fascinated and slowly gets drawn into attending ballet instead of boxing. Talking to his Grandma she tells him that her happiest moments were when she was dancing. The strike takes on a new level and the miners clash with the riot police. It’s becoming very violent and Billy’s family are right at the heart of it. When Billy’s dad finds out that his son has not been going to boxing but ballet, he hits the roof and bans him from going. But Mrs Wilkinson thinks he is good enough to audition for the Royal Ballet School so they secretly meet to practice. Billy’s friend, Michael likes dressing up in ladies’ clothes and Billy joins in which is absolutely one of the most outstanding performances of the show. The day of the audition comes and Mrs Wilkinson turns up at Billy’s house as he doesn’t turn up to go to the audition. This results in a clash with Billy’s dad and brother Tony who are furious. Billy refuses to dance in front of them and that is that. Billy is angry and upset. The second act opens at the miner's annual Christmas show, with Margaret Thatcher, who is seen as a hate figure by the coal miners and this number really does reflect the strength of feeling between how the miner’s felt and the government at the time.
I am not ashamed to say I laughed and cried at this show in equal measure. If you cannot feel the pain of this lonely child missing his mother, then you are made of stone. A child dealing with the death of his mother is heart breaking and his song reading her letter is truly touching. The songs are written by Elton John but not particularly memorable which is a shame, however they do fit really well with the story and action of the show, telling the story and giving drama when required. I am of an age where I remember the early 1980’s and the miner’s strike on TV. This show really brings it to life – a real polarisation of gritty realism and wonderful dance. What a combination!
Billy Elliot was played by Haydn May during this performance and what a star this young man is. His dancing was flawless but to add to that he has the northern accent and acting ability to make the character real. His best friend Michael, was played by Henry Farmer and what an outstanding performer he is. His supporting role was almost stealing the scenes in places. Henry will be one to watch.
Mrs Wilkinson was played by Anna-Jane Casey and she is absolutely fabulous in her role. She is passionate, yet apathetic as a failed dancer. She is truly memorable in her role and the best Mrs Wilkinson to ever hit this show. NB: When I tweeted her to say how much I enjoyed her performance, she humbly gave all the credit to the kids. What an amazing woman you are Anna-Jane!
Billy’s dad is played by Martin Walsh and gives a realistic performance of someone who is obviously struggling with everything; his wife’s death, his lack of money and possibility of no job, and to top it all off, his son wants to be a ballet dancer. His rough and ready approach to parenting that Martin delivers, makes you feel sorry for him and angry at him in equal measure. A heart rendering performance by Martin.
I need to give a mention to both Daniel Page who plays Mr Braithwaite and made us all smile when he dances with Billy and Mrs Wilkinson. What a shock and joy! Totally worth the ticket price for this performance alone. Another mention is for Grandma played by Andrea Miller. Her comic timing is perfect and her performance is very enjoyable. I could totally visualise that sausage roll in the airing cupboard!
This show deals with several serious issues and could potentially be a very difficult and serious show. However, it has the perfect level of dancing and comedy in it to lift it up above being so black. The miners went through a terrible time and it is true that Margaret Thatcher was genuinely hated with a passion by those touched by this crisis. The way this is dealt with in the show with compassion and love for the miners and the really enjoyable ‘Merry Christmas Mrs Thatcher’ was touching.
This is an amazing show that has a cast brimming with talent. This is its last stop for its UK Tour so catch it at Milton Keynes Theatre while you can.
Billy Elliot is playing at Milton Keynes Theatre until 17 June 2017. Tickets are available here: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/billy-elliot/milton-keynes-theatre/